Saturday, January 30, 2010

Plant Progress

A few posts ago I showed you the blooms on our Amaryllis. The second bulb has bloomed this week, with a magnificent show of eight blooms, four on each stem. But threatening to outdo that is the opening of the third bulb, which is flourishing a total of SIX blooms on one stem, with another stem still to open.

This snap of the six blooms is a more accurate picture of the lovely pinks of these blooms.

Meanwhile, remember the last picture of the hibiscus, all cut down to some dry-looking, 3" high twigs? Well, hibiscus took a little rest, and then started sending out new sprouts. It's now covered with green leaves and well on its way to the next round of blooms.

These beauties and the indoor containers of spinach and lettuce keep us in touch with growing things throughout the long, cold Canadian winter!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mittens and Coffee Cake

The cold weather is back, after a lovely January thaw. This morning when I got up the temperature was -21C (-5F), but the sun is back and the new snow is just sparkling.

Jim has been walking to the library for exercise lately, but has only a few pair of those stretchy little acrylic gloves. So this weekend I knit him a nice thick pair of mittens.

When we were at Art and Linda's this summer she gave me a pattern called "Plain Jane Mittens" which are knit with two strands of yarn at once.

I went to my stash and found just the right yarn, a nice soft navy blue, to go with the navy fleece jacket I made him about two years ago. The mittens knit up very quickly, due to the double strand of yarn. I changed the pattern in just a few ways: the suggested cast on of 32 stitches for the largest adult size was a little too small, so I added 4 stitches, and that came out just right. The pattern showed a decrease at the top of 4 decreases in each round. I changed that to 8 decreases in a round, and then 1 round knit plain. I decreased by slipping a stitch, knitting a stitch, and passing the slipped stitch over, rather than knitting two together, as knitting two together looked so bulky.

The first mitt I decreased at the top on the two sides, in a traditional (for socks anyway) way. That's the mitt on the right. But I wasn't very happy with the looks of it. So the second mitt, on the left, I decreased as I described. I liked this a lot, so this morning I took out the top of the right mitt and changed it to match the left mitt.

They turned out very well. EXCEPT they are actually about an inch or so too long. When the weather warms up I'll take the tops out and reknit them a little shorter. In the meantime he can wear them and have warm hands in the winter.

What's nicer in cold weather than fresh, warm coffee cake? We have coffee cake for breakfast once in a while. We are still using our own apples harvested last fall. Here's the recipe:

Preheat oven to 375F.
Line an 8" x 8" square pan with parchment paper.
Mix together:
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Whisk together:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter or margerine
1 egg
Cut up and mix in 3 or 4 apples.
Add flour mix to apple mix.
Add enough milk to moisten to a thick batter.
Spread batter in pan. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mix on top.
Bake in 375 oven for 40 minutes.
Turn out onto cooling rack and cut into 9 pieces.
Each piece = about 200 calories.

(I don't list the cinnamon sugar mix because I keep a supply already mixed in an old spice jar with a shaker top for sprinkling on whatever needs it.)

Enjoy with a mug of steaming coffee (or hot chocolate!).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Knitting (& Sewing)at a distance

On Friday I sent off the two waistcoats to the granddaughters, and the two hats to Dear Son #1. I've promised him a scarf to go with the hat, but am waiting to hear if either hat actually looks good with his jacket. It's a bit hard to knit a set that will look good with a jacket I've never seen!

I've had experience sewing for our two daughters and our oldest granddaughter when they were far away. I managed that by making samples of the patterns and adjusting from there.

The first one I did was our younger daughter's wedding dress. That time I bought a pattern, made a dress and sent it to her. It wasn't suitable, so I bought another pattern and made another dress, which turned out well, and would work with a few adjustments. Then I started on the wedding dress, which was an interesting combination: a plain, short sleeved sheath, ending above the knees, combined with an overskirt that was about 12" long at the waist front, and cascaded down to a little bit of a train in the back. The overskirt was lined with gold lame and the sheath had gold embroidery around the scoop neckline. It suited her to a "T".

Then I made a very interesting black satin evening dress for Daugher #1. First I made a bodice of the pattern she had picked (a Vogue pattern that was all on the bias, with not one piece that looked like it was part of a dress pattern). Then I made a sample dress of some deep burgundy polyester satin, completely lined. And, after adjustments to that dress, I made the black satin. We altered the neckline from a halter top to a sleeveless top that came up to a "dog collar". The collar and the wide straps around the back had rhinestone applied to the edges. The back of the dress dipped down to just below the waist. It was smashing!!!

And then for granddaughter #1 I made a Badgley Mischka design (another Vogue pattern) for her grade 8 grad dress. This dress had three layers of 13 pieces. It was a MAJOR project, and required the sample bodice which was used to fit properly. This dress was also beautiful when finished. This picture is also taken from the pattern envelope.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My 2nd Most Interesting Knitting Project Ever

At our family reunion in Michigan this past August, I had the pleasure of getting
to know my cousin Art's wife, Linda. Partly because we are both knitters we hit it off right away. I was working on a pair of socks for Jim, and attempting a different heel treatment. She wanted to do much the same thing on a baby bonnet, and had an old pattern book that she showed me. I used to have the same book, but sometime over the years it disappeared.

As we were looking through that book I saw this pattern, and realized that this was the original pattern for matching sweaters that my sister and I had when we were just little girls. The sweaters were a deep red wool, that my Scottish aunt's mother had knit for us.

Ida Mae McDonald was an old woman when I knew her, living with my dad's younger brother and his family. She had suffered a stroke that paralyzed her right side, and Uncle Rudy had made a frame to hold her embroidery work that enabled her to cross stitch beautiful pictures. I particularly remember a very large picture she embroidered of a deer and faun, surrounded by greenery.

Prior to her stroke she had done all sorts of handwork, and since that all interested me very much even as a young child (this was before I was seven years old) I would always spend time with Mrs. McDonald when we visited Uncle Rudy and Aunt Edith. So when old Mrs. McDonald died, Aunt Edith gave me all her knitting pattern books.

I recently asked Linda to send me a copy of this pattern. It arrived in the mail this past Monday, and Linda wrote on it that the book is dated 1941! I hope to reproduce this sweater for our three younger granddaughters, the same three that are getting the waistcoats.

But two years ago for my sister's birthday I made a reproduction of this sweater for her birthday. Not having the pattern, just going by my memory of our sweaters, I knit this beautiful red wool cardigan for her. I knowingly added details: the pockets, the cables on the pockets, the cables on the plackets.

This was one of the biggest knitting challenges I have ever taken on. It was a very enjoyable process, and although I often had to redo an area until I was happy with it, the end result was, IMHO, terrific. I think my sister was pretty happy with it, too.

But why do I call it My Second Most Interesting Knitting Project? Because there is one sweater I've made that was an even more interesting process. I'll tell you about that next time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Hats

After finishing the first hat last week I decided it wasn't what was needed. Colours just aren't going to look good with a purplish blue jacket. I had yarn remaining from the second waistcoat I made for the granddaughters which was quite a pretty, deep (purplish?) blue, so I got some off white to go with it and started hat #2. Because these hats are knit on a circular needle, you need to get all the way up to the crown before you can try one on for size. This was going to be hat #2. Very pretty! Nice colours!! But TOO SMALL!!! It's quite snug on my head, and I'm sure Dear Son #1 has a bigger head than I do. So I'm calling this hat #1 1/2. I took it off the needles, and I'll finish it up later.

So late Monday morning I ran into town and picked up some more yarn to go with that nice deep blue. I wanted a variegated blue, but didn't like what was there. Instead I came home with a pretty wild variegated yarn with "Southwestern" colours. And started right in on hat #2 1/2 that afternoon. Did some knitting on it yesterday. But the entire top of the hat I knit this morning before daylight.

One thing I just can't do is lie quietly in bed trying to go to sleep. When I am wakeful during the night, I just get up and do something: read, knit, cut out quilt blocks, work crossword puzzles. Last night I woke up at 2:45 a.m. and that was it for me. Fortunately I had this fascinating knitting project in the living room.

I just love these hats. They are enough of a challenge, knit in a two-handed fair isle with a reasonably complicated pattern, on a smallish (16"long) circular needle. They are small enough to finish in a short time, and inspiring enough that each one suggests the next one.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Break in the Weather

After a long siege of unusually cold weather, we're now enjoying above average temperatures for the last few days. It's such a treat to be able to get out for walks again. Jim has started seeding pansies, as afternoons in the greenhouse are very warm and make it a pleasant place to do that work.

I had planned to clean the little basement room today, since that is where he puts the seed trays under lights to bring about germination. So I got started about 10 a.m., vacuuming up the dirt accumulated from last year's growing season. Washed all the grow lights, even some of the plastic under the trays to protect the benches. Took all my canning jars off the shelves, washed those shelves and sorted bottles. Put 15 pint canning jars into a box to give away; there are still 30 pint jars left, more than I need.

Then it was time to make the stir fry for dinner, chicken, rice and oodles of veggies. The sun was shining so enticingly through the windows that I couldn't resist doing a quick window wash. I was plenty warm working on the balcony wearing just jeans and a denim shirt. First I shovelled off the little remaining snow on the balcony, and then attacked the windows. In no time they were clean, and I pulled down the icicle lights from the peak of the house.

The washing water was still clean and sudsy, so I washed the insides of the windows and then went around to the back of the house and cleaned those windows. They didn't dry so well, as it was considerably colder in the shade. But by 4:30 this afternoon all the upstairs windows had been washed. Since I had moved my sewing table to get at the window it faces, I did a yearly cleaning behind the table before putting it back.

So now I have four rooms partially deep cleaned. I've decided to skip all my quilting meetings this month, 6 regular meetings and two days of retreats, in order to get a load of cleaning and organizing done. Things have been postponed and put off long enough!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hat #1

Sunday the 10th we celebrated Dear Son #1's birthday. He suggested some time ago that he would like to have a toque and scarf for his birthday present, as he recently bought a new winter jacket. I promised to make that for him and started looking for some good wool yarn, in a light grey and a variegated blue.

I looked at several yarn sites on the net, but just didn't find what I was looking for.
Finally found some as we were shopping in Strathmore, although I had to settle for acrylic, not wool. I started knitting on Sunday evening. I had, in fact, found two kinds of variegated blue. This one is a Bernat Satin, the same yarn I'm using in the pink waistcoat for the youngest granddaughter. And even though I didn't care for the "hand" of that yarn, this variegated blue (with teal and purple) seemed very attractive. But as it shows knitted up, it seems much too much teal and not enough blue. So I'm calling this Hat #1, meaning that I will make a few more versions to finally hit on a combination of colours that seems right.

The pattern is from "45 Fine & Fanciful Hats to Knit" by Anna Zilboorg. This is a great book, with quite unusual hats. I've made several as gifts already. This is the first "toque" pattern that I've used. It certainly knits up quickly, and looks great when finished.

We are finally enjoying a break from the deep cold we had for December. Our daytime highs are in the single digits, but what a relief that is! M and I are able to go for our daily walks, which we missed so much.

And another cheery note for us is the blooming of the first of Jim's Amaryllis bulbs. Rather than stick with the traditional deep red, he chose a bloom called "Apple Blossom." The colour in the snap shows a deeper peach or orange because it was taken in the late afternoon. The blooms are more of a delicate to hearty pink. They are gorgeous!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


The weather has been so unusually cold on a continuous basis, no chinooks, that it's no hardship at all to stay indoors knitting. So I've made excellent progress on the "two waistcoats" project. The second one is now finished, and the first one is being blocked right now.

Here's a snap to show adding the front ribbing and the collar. This was done all in one, so I used my Denise Interchangeable Knitting Needles. You can make them as long as you like by locking sections together.
The knitting is actually separated at the bottom, not hooked together.

There was an interesting method for making the collar: first pick up and knit an interminable number of stitches, (284) and work them in ribbing for two rows.
Then do a short row from the bottom hem to ten stitches beyond the opposite shoulder seam. Turn your work and come back to ten stitches beyond the other should seam. Turn and with each succeeding row add three stitches to the amount knitted. Eventually you will reach the rows on either front side where you began decreasing toward the neckline. It takes forever! And look how long the collar is at the center back! I'm anxious to see how this collar looks on the girls.

When you reach that midpoint on the front, continue to the end of the row and knit in ribbing until the lower front plackets are six rows long. Then bind off in ribbing.

I chose to knit the ribbing at the armholes on four needles, to eliminate a seam in the ribbing.

Sew on the button and block by pinning to size and covering with a damp cloth.

This second one for the 10 year old came out perfectly to the pattern size. The first one I made for the 7 year old had to be blocked to size as I early on switched to a smaller needle, not liking how loosely the fabric knit up on the larger needles.

Couldn't sleep for a while during last night, so I was up knitting. (Yeah, didn't get enough of it during the day!) And instead of knitting the armhole ribbing on #2, I indulged my curiosity about #3. This is for the youngest granddaughter, 5 years old, and is in a Bernat yarn called Satin. It's a pretty, lustrous yarn, but I don't care much for the "hand" of it, as it has no spring to it at all.

This pink one is going to have a "fun fur" collar. I know already that that yarn is a pain to work with, but I just think the final result will be worth the effort.

Of the first two waistcoats, the light blue one was knit with the yarn that came with the pattern from Mary Maxim--a Sirdar Super Soft Aran. That yarn also had no spring to it, and somewhat fuzzy stitch definition. But the second, darker blue waistcoat was knit with a Bernat Berella "4" (called an afghan yarn) that had a good hand, and also had good stitch definition.

These waistcoats were begun very late in November. The yarn for the darker blue was bought on November 28. They took longer to knit than I thought they would, but that's not surprising because all except the first seven rows have mostly k1 p1, or manipulated stitches. The pattern had a double seed stitch, i.e. the knit or purl was consistent for two rows, instead of changing every row. I found it easier to do the ordinary seed stitch, so that every knit stitch on the needle had to be purled, and the other way round. That just seemed easier to keep track of.

I did discover that it's a good idea for me to knit rather than sew when the weather is so confining. Jim has been spending most of his free time reading in the living room and it's very companionable to be knitting there with him. Especially when he shares little excerpts from his books, one history book of Alberta, and one of Canada. Sometimes it seems we are becoming iconic old folks, reading and knitting by the fireplace. Why then does it feel so good?

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's celebrations

Last night we enjoyed a gathering at L and M's home across the road: good friends, good eats, good fellowship. We walked home in brilliant moonlight, thoroughly bundled up against the -30 cold, but enjoying the pristine winter landscape until we turned into our driveway and came up against the bitter east wind. Then we were glad to reach the backdoor and come into the warmth of home.

This morning a huge nacreous moon hung in the western sky, while at the same time the sun rose in the south east with the most spectacular sun dogs I've ever seen. By noon the clouds had moved in and we're back to a dim, cold day. I swept off the back step and patio, and was fine until I left the protection the lee of the house gave and felt that east wind. Then even a winter jacket, ski pants, hat and thick gloves couldn't protect me. After just 15 minutes my fingers were icy, and it was time to retreat to the fireplace and pick up my knitting again.

Jim made several new year phone calls to our kids, relatives and friends, and then I spent a wonderful hour visiting on the phone with a dear friend from high school days. She was my maid of honour when we married, and we've always kept in touch, and managed to visit each other several times, though we live two thousand miles apart.

A lot of our winter has been much colder than average, about 10 degrees lower than usual. But last Sunday was a beautiful day, with the temperature nearing zero, and absolutely no wind. Jim and I went cross country skiing nearby for about two hours.
It was a big treat to get out and get some exercise. I also snapped a few nice pictures
of the winter scene.

We've had a lot of hoar frost this winter, and
not that much wind last week. It all makes
for beauty, especially when the sun is out.

Here's the "sentinel" at the end of the
driveway, looking splendid in white.

So we have a good beginning to this new year. We look forward to much this year, including our 45th Wedding Anniversary. We hope to have all the children and grandchildren gathered together on Thanksgiving Day to celebrate together.

Best wishes for a blessed new year to you!